Helen Zille during the DA May Day rally at Hillsong Church, Century City. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency(ANA)
Will the real Helen Zille please stand up?

My earliest recollections of her, many years back, were of a courageous and tenacious journalist on the Rand Daily Mail, a newspaper that was a thorn in the side of the apartheid regime. Apartheid ministers hated the newspaper with such passion, they made no secret of their wish to shut it down at the slightest excuse.

Press freedom, as we know it today, was still being fought for, so when then justice minister Jimmy Kruger made a public announcement that black consciousness leader Steve Biko had died in detention in 1977 as a result of a hunger strike, only his servile supporters in the National Party believed him.

The majority of South Africans knew he was lying through his teeth.

But to expose Kruger’s crude attempt at a cover-up, it took the intrepidity and sharp investigative skills of a journalist like Helen Zille - supported by her editor at the time Allister Sparks - to make a difference.

To confirm her suspicions, Zille spent many painstaking weeks collating concrete proof by tracking down and interviewing doctors involved in the very high profile case.

Despite threats to ban her newspaper and personal threats on her life, she refused to budge. Her perseverance and indefatigable courage were rewarded when an inquest into Biko’s death confirmed he had died, not through a hunger strike, but as a result of a serious head injury.

Add to this Zille’s active involvement in the Black Sash, the End Conscription Campaign, and making her home available as a safe house for political activists during the State of Emergency of 1986, as well as her Struggle credentials that have held her in good stead.

Nor were her leadership qualities ever in question when she later entered party politics to lead the Democratic Alliance to official opposition status.

However, something seems to have gone astray in recent years, ever since someone introduced her to a new toy - the online news and social networking site called Twitter.

Ever since being hooked, she’s embarked on an irrepressible Twitter spree that has rendered her almost unrecognisable from the Helen Zille we once knew.

We’re all now pretty familiar with her tweets about the virtues of colonialism and others, hinting how favourably disposed she is to some aspects of the apartheid education system.

And those weren’t mere aberrations.

She followed up with her controversial tweet about the recent physical attack on US politician and movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger here in South Africa which she claims would have earned much wider coverage had he been a black celebrity.

And then followed her arguments about what she calls black privilege, which she describes as “being able to loot a country and steal hundreds of billions of rand and get re-elected”.

What’s happening, Helen? Are we back to the days when everything was either white or black and never the twain shall meet?

Or is it perhaps a bit of apartheid nostalgia creeping in?

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.